We didn’t even have 24 hours to mourn Alton Sterling, and here we are again, learning of another unjust death of a black man at hands of a police officer.
Philando Castile was a 32-year-old cafeteria worker at a Montessori school in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. He was pulled over for a busted tail light last night by an officer from the St. Anthony Police Department. The officer asked Philando to hand over his ID; Philando complied, and also informed the officer that he was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and was carrying at the time. At this point, the officer fired 4 shots into the car.
Philando’s girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter, were in the car. Immediately after the shooting, Lavish begin recording the aftermath with Facebook Live. The video, which you can find online, shows Philando bleeding out, as Lavish narrates what just happened. The officer can be seen still pointing his weapon into the car, but seeming to panic, yelling curse words wildly.
Philando Castile did not deserve to die. He committed no crime. He did nothing wrong. In fact, he did exactly what we hear constantly black men are supposed to do in encounters with police: he was calm, he followed orders, he informed the officer he was a concealed carrying. And yet, despite following all the things he was told he was supposed to do to avoid being killed, Philando Castile was still killed.
The problem in America is not wild young black men. The problem in encounters between police and black men and women is not the black men and women. The problem is that black lives are not valued like white lives. Black lives are feared, and considered dispensable.
In the video, we see an officer who is panicky and terrified and out of control. If you are a police officer, and you are terrified of being a police officer and doing police officer things (like routine traffic stops) then you should consider a new career. Police officers have a duty, to protect the lives of citizens. You can’t do that if you are so afraid of your fellow citizens that you are willing to kill them as a first option.
I keep writing these posts about Black Lives Matter and police violence, and I want to clarify something. I’m a straight white man. I have every privilege and opportunity. I don’t fear for my life when I see a police officer. I don’t write these things claiming to speak for the black community, or to say I can fully comprehend or understand the fear they live with.
I write these things as an attempt to be a conscience to white folks. Because it seems to me that, for far too many white people in America, these kinds of injustices just don’t matter. Too many people who look like me just don’t care, don’t get it, or even worse, automatically defend the white police officer.
That’s what I’ve seen constantly since writing about Alton Sterling yesterday. Too many white men and women on social media ridiculing a dead man, finding reasons to justify his death, practicing dehumanization. What I wrote yesterday is 100% accurate:
The racists and apologists out there will begin throwing these things out there, to distract attention from the clear actions shown in a cell phone video of what happened. They will trot out his past mug shots, and other pictures that emphasize his blackness. They will call him a thug. They will call him a criminal. They will blame him for his own death.They will say these things to dehumanize Alton Sterling, to make his death unimportant, to make him seem like a danger to society. They will do this to ease their own consciences of the guilt of being a proponent of a system that destroys black bodies.
So, white folks, how do you defend the officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota? What will it take for you to wake up and realize that real, actual human beings are being killed every damn day, and for you to actually care that this is happening? What will it take for you to stop defending injustice and murder, and instead call on our nation to begin respecting black lives, valuing them, letting them live?
Yesterday, we saw Jesus bleeding out in a parking lot in Baton Rogue, Louisiana. Today, we saw Jesus dying in the passenger seat of his car in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Where will we see Jesus being crucified tomorrow? And will we even know or care?